How Ashmali 'baked' a thriving business – Business Daily
Frost Cakery founder and CEO Ashmali Thakkar during the photo session at her Westgate Mall outlet on August 25, 2022. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG
For years, cakes have been used to bring joy and to celebrate special days. These days, cakes are made for any moment and they are now the showcase for creativity and artistry. Cakes have become an artist’s playground to display delicious beauty.
During the height of the pandemic lockdown in Nairobi, Ashmali Thakkar of Frost Cakery ventured into the world of bespoke cakes and cupcakes. The journey started with cupcakes.
“I felt there was no cake brand in Nairobi that focused specifically on beautifully-decorated cupcakes. A place where you could also go sit and eat, and be surrounded by more cupcakes,” she says.
“I decided to create my beauties for people to order online.”
Her first cupcake was made on June 1, 2020. It was a Funfetti cupcake which is a fun-looking cake made with sprinkles on top. The cupcake was colourful but it flopped.
Choosing the path of self-training, she decided to keep trying to bake more cupcakes.
“I tried to make cupcakes using different recipes that I found online. Part of the trials included researching with a small group of friends whose work was to taste different cupcakes and provide reviews.”
There was no business plan. It was only Ms Thakkar and her husband, who is on the business side of the company. She also had no staff. She was doing the baking alone.
“Finally, after proving myself, my mother bought me a commercial oven that enables a baker to make several cupcakes in one round. We also designed luxurious packaging to align our beautiful cupcakes,” she says.
“I love vanilla. The first name for my brand was Vanilla, but I changed the name because it felt limiting to only vanilla-flavoured cupcakes.”
Two months later, she found her first chef in a bakery. The first cake sale online through her Instagram page was a purchase by a friend. The cake was two kilos, costing Sh4,000. When she set up a website, more orders came in, starting with three peanut butter brownies, each at Sh290.
Her company, Frost Cakery, makes cakes in neutral colours and they have frost.
“I get my sugar, flour, brookside butter, milk, and eggs locally. But I import Swiss meringue buttercream, Belgian chocolate, cocoa powder, sprinkles, Biscoff from the UK, and a lot of my machinery such as mixers,” she says.
“My packaging is costly and we bring it from outside,” she adds.
There are different types of buttercream. Swiss meringue buttercream is silky smooth and less sweet than American buttercream. Because of the cooked sugar, it also does not form a crust and is a relatively stable style of buttercream. It is also a very pale ivory colour which makes it perfect for adding colour.
Frost Cakery also launched a physical presence at Nairobi’s Westgate Mall a few months ago.
“After several months in the business, we created a business plan. Our first strategy was online sales, but we were not reaching the group that is not on Instagram. By opening a physical location, we were able to capture this large group that shops at the mall and also uses Instagram. This has further grown our online presence by quite a large percentage,” she says.
Her clients, both online and at the cakery, are 70 percent women and 30 percent men with a mix of 60 percent locals and 40 percent foreigners. A lot of men go to the physical location to have meetings over cups of tea. The cakery also caters to clients who prefer eggless options.
The business has grown from word of mouth.
“My business is profitable and we have established ourselves as the place for bespoke beautiful cupcakes. Ironically, I sell these delicious beauties yet I am health conscious and not a fan of sugar. I don’t enjoy cakes,” says Ms Thakkar.
“And I still feel challenged that I lack professional training which is one of my focuses, to get professionally trained.”
Like every business owner, she has had challenges which include wishing she had more hours in her entrepreneurial life.
“Sustaining the clients is also a challenge because the taste is very personal. Today, you may purchase one type of cupcake and tomorrow you may purchase a different flavoured cupcake that doesn’t please you like the previous cupcake which was differently flavoured. Also, logistics cause stress. My costs are high as I don’t have the buying power to buy wholesale which would lower my costs,” she explains.
Another challenge she faces is the ever-changing formats of Instagram. The various changes require a retailer to be very adaptable and flexible to the platform.
If she would be a cupcake, she would choose the marble sponge cupcake with hazelnut buttercream chocolate ganache served with frosting in black florals.
Her favourite part of the business? “The decoration especially for children. When I receive the videos of the children opening the boxes and being surprised, it melts my heart,” she says.
Ms Maina is a luxury advisor. E-mail: [email protected]